Six Goals Worth Failing At

Mark Sagor


you don't know everything“When one aged Zen master was asked to relate his biography, he exclaimed, “Just one mistake after another!”  from Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das.

The experience of each day changes us, even those routine days that seem to be nudging us toward nothing in particular. Like water smoothing a stone, the accumulation of daily experiences and choices relentlessly shape our characters and futures.

Unlike stones, we have a say in what we experience.

So I am trying to fail at the right things.

Some failure is inevitable. It’s not just the fact that we are imperfect beings whose ambitions can outrun our abilities, although that is a big part of it.

Failure is inevitable because it’s how we learn. My stepfather’s favorite saying was “If you really want to learn something make a big mistake.”

The acceleration of change in technology and business processes has improved the image of failure in business circles. Conventional wisdom now recommends “failing faster” as a key element of success.

I agree.

Let’s just make sure we are failing faster at the right things.

Failure may be inevitable but it can also be an exceedingly painful experience. Who hasn’t felt the embarrassment of screwing up in a major way?  Failure can trigger an urge to quit. Failure can open the door to self doubt and fear.

That much potential downside makes it critical to know that the potential upside is worth it.

Here are six goals that are well worth risking the pain of failure:

1. Balance determination with kindness.

2. When talking to someone, give them undivided attention.

3. Don’t squander time worrying about the inevitable or inconsequential.

4. Accept disappointments and difficulties with equanimity.

5. Think clearly about what is of ultimate importance.

6. Don’t judge others harshly for their failures.

You’d think that anyone could manage a short list like this for at least one day.

It’s close to a certainty, however, that I will have failed at one or more of these goals before I go to bed tonight.

When I do, I will at least have the consolation of knowing that these failures illuminate, and bring me closer to, the life that I am seeking.